The theatre is a powerful place to change minds…to those who will listen.
This past Saturday I went to see the Huntington Theatre Company’s production of “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?”, a well done production that I enjoyed. The production I enjoyed, the experience not so much.
Being the end of a popular run, the show was sold out, and my last minute rush seat placed me amongst the student group from Hell.
The group of students were about college aged, from a school that shall remain nameless, who obviously had to see this production for some type of grade because this is not how they wanted to spend their Saturday night.
There were many a selfie taken, many photos taking during the show. Wonderful chatter amongst them selves while the performance was going on, not to distract them from checking their Twitter and Instagram during the performance. Now this is (unfortunately) standard during theatrical performances nowadays, but this group took a turn for the worse.
Several students asked questions (loudly) to the actors onstage in an attempt to be funny. As the curtain fell at the end of Act II, as the lights began to fade to black, one student shouted particularly loudly “But wait, What did they have for Dinner?”.
One student sat in the aisle of the theatre for most of Act 1 so he could “relax and stretch his legs”. Between yelling out “Shots fired” every time a character had a witty comeback to commenting on the shininess of Malcolm-Jamal Warner’s head, I was pretty annoyed.
This as been a recent trend over the past few years, with incidents of audience miss behavior causing actors to stop the show, acknowledging a rude audience member and then attempt to restart the show. All of this came to a head when over the summer when an actor ejected a patron who was hurling homophobic insults at performers; resulting in two actors being fired and a production cancelled.
We talk about trying to find ways to open up theatre to more audiences, to make it more inclusive. However, how do we weed out those who do not respect the work that happens onstage. Does every performance need to be accompianed by a speech that is given to children when they first see a show reminding them that the people onstage can hear them and they need to be quiet? Or is it a terrifying sign that people cannot sit and watch a show for a few hours without ruining the experience for everyone else at the theatre, who don’t care about your wise-ass remarks?
Theatre is not the place for hecklers, nor is it a place for those who cannot recognize the difference between a live performance and watching Netflix at home. I never want to tell someone to avoid theatre, but if you are going to ruin the experience of others by attending, to you I say, stay out.